Like many of you, I have been deeply affected by the thousands of people gathering across America and around the world to say in no uncertain terms, Black lives matter.  The recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and sadly others before them, are forcing us like no other time in my lifetime to take a hard look at the kind of world we live in – and what must change.

Today the pain of systemic racism is being felt in a large and very public way.  The acute awareness now descending upon us brings to stark light the daily episodes of racial discrimination, both large and small, endured by people who are Black.  As I said in my last note on June 2, such awareness demands that we remain vigilant against the inhumanity of racism in all its forms, and that we do the real work to build a more just society.

At H+K we are listening to the perspectives and experiences of our Black colleagues – in safe, active discussion sessions conducted in both the US and the UK, so far.  These conversations have been very honest, revealing, discomforting, and saddening.  All of us who have participated have been touched to the core.  We share a sense of gravity and urgency to ensure that at H+K, our culture first and foremost upholds equality as the most fundamental human right; that racism in any form is not tolerated; and that everything about our management approach supports diversity and inclusion.   I accept entirely that we have a lot of work to do, and with our senior management team, I commit fully to delivering the change.

We will continue to listen and learn.  But we will also start to act.  As a company, we are taking a series of steps forward now that form the beginning of a journey of several stages.

  • I am establishing an employee advisory group on race to help me and the rest of senior management ensure that H+K’s standards and practices improve racial diversity at all levels of the company; guard against racism in its various forms; and enable traditional and reverse mentoring that supports our Black colleagues.
  • We will accelerate our active search for a global head of diversity and inclusion who will work broadly across the company on all human capital matters and who will also help inform our counsel to clients. We are creating a similar role focused on the U.S. business.  These appointments are one of several steps we will take to diversify senior management over time.
  • As a member of the Arthur Page Society, I have signed the Diversity Action Alliance pledge. The Alliance was formed by a coalition of public relations and communications leaders to achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion across our profession.  The pledge involves specific commitments to adopt best practices; advocate for diversity and inclusion; and benchmark, measure and evaluate progress.  I was very happy to sign this pledge.  It is entirely consistent with our need for a diverse, vibrant workforce that taps the full spectrum of human potential, so that we can successfully fulfill our purpose as communicators.
  • We are in active discussions with a range of organizations to help close the opportunity gap for young Black people and other people of color who want to pursue a career in communication. I will share specifics as these collaborations take shape.
  • We will foster ongoing dialogue and engagement on race and equality issues across the company. Executive leadership will actively participate in the forums that already exist, such as Distinction, EquALL, Inclusion+, and YouBelong.  More markets will take steps forward with my active support. I am asking offices around the world to consider potential actions to improve diversity and create a more inclusive environment, reporting back to me by June 30.
  • In the U.S., starting this year we will recognize Juneteenth (June 19), which marks the emancipation of the last remaining enslaved Black Americans on June 19, 1865. This day will now be a U.S. holiday to use for reflection and learning.  We will consider how to expand this practice globally so that all of H+K can mark a day of remembrance, reflection, and engagement to create a more just world.

On a personal note, the past week for me has been one of deep self-reflection, intense listening, and continued learning.   I have sought the advice of friends and colleagues who are Black business leaders.  They are really helping me. I have an instinct to share them with you too, because I think they can help us more broadly. Perhaps they can also provide a welcome voice of experience to our colleagues who are looking for mentoring and role models in the Black professional community.   I will invite them to join me periodically in my global virtual conversation series starting later this month.   We will announce a schedule soon.

I have always said that H+K’s opportunity is to be a force for progress – an exciting and realistic vision that is only achievable if we have humanity and equality for all at our core. You have my commitment that I will continue to engage in difficult discussions, and I am setting higher standards for myself, our leadership, and our firm.

Today we have a clear window of opportunity and a moral imperative to do better, and to be better.  Thank you for giving me the inspiration and the confidence to see clearly that we can. And we will.

Yours sincerely,

AnnaMaria DeSalva